Noon in the city of Bath

London to Bath. Mostly sunny skies and highs in the upper fifties. The sun goes down at 7:57pm. 

As we pulled out of Paddington Station, I closed my eyes and enjoyed the announcements on the Great Western Railway. The artificial woman’s voice was so reassuring it was nearly narcotic. Information about our travel time. Information about refreshments. Then she told us to stay alert. “See it. Say it. Sorted!” she said, reciting the UK’s security mantra, which is just as elastic as the “See Something, Say Something” campaign in the States. (And Christ, we’ve been listening to this paranoid gibberish for twenty years now.) Maybe it’s my American ear, but there’s a sinister edge to hearing a chipper, disembodied voice say sorted. I imagine an unpleasantness quickly swept from public view, a killing in a backroom.

An hour later, we tumbled out of the train station, us tourists from all corners, and we squinted at the bright stone city of Bath, where a Roman spa from the year 60 is around the corner from a Sunglass Hut and a KFC. A mammoth 7th-century monastery is down the street from Urban Outfitters. This might be the world’s most beautiful shopping mall.

Prior William Birde’s Chantry Chapel, built in 1515

Inside the Bath Abbey, there’s a tiny chantry near the apse, about the size of a shipping container. When I stepped inside, I was alone and there was a brief moment of slippage; my brains quieted down, and I felt outside of time. Reverent, even, as I imagined myself believing in divine logic, everything classifiable and clear. The sensation fled the moment I noticed it, and I returned to the throng of people taking pictures of tombs and stone angels.

Two thousand years ago, the Romans etched their resentments into metal and cast them in the water, hoping the gods would punish those who’d done them wrong. A note about a lost pair of gloves: “The thief should lose his mind and eyes.” Like an ancient version of Twitter.

Twilight in Bath

After sunset, C. and I leaned over a bridge, snapping pictures because the internet told us this was a meaningful sight. When I lowered my camera, a man stood closer to me, grinning like a jump scare. He nudged closer, wanting to touch my shoulder and take my hand. “Get a good photo, mate? Got a good shot? Beautiful night, yeah?” Maybe he was just a lonely drunk. Perhaps he was getting ready to sort me. The creepy is always unclassifiable.

Thomas Ragsdale & Richard Arnold – On My Shoulder

Transformations I | Mysteries of the Deep, 2022 | Bandcamp

Some favorite new UK music: this beautiful neon-soaked release via Mysteries of the Deep.

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